Barbie Zipline – Valpo Edition

It started so innocently:

When the Classroom Chef  people are so far inside your head that your first thought upon such a questions is: “yes, we definitely should send dolls hurtling down a wire suspended from the top of the football bleachers”…


The teachers I follow online talk quite a bit about risk-taking – teachers stepping out of their comfort zone, doing something besides “Here, you guys, do page 282, #1-30 all. Show your work”.

It sounds great. and honestly, it’s been transformational in my classroom. But “risk” implies the possibility of failure. I’ve had activities fall flat, had them blow up in my face. But it’s been a while.

Planning well, and picking my spots, has helped me pick the right activity at the right time for my students, most of the time. I was confident enough in Barbie Zipline that I started hyping it to my students.

Me: “When you graduate, you’re gonna look back on this day and know it was the greatest math class you ever had.”

Student: “I don’t know, my math teacher last year was pretty epic.”

I’d been bookmarking John Stevens’ blog posts about his adventures in Barbie Zipline design to get the basic idea down, and recognized I’d need to make a trip to see the helpful hardware folks at Ace. Like $55 later, I was ready.

 

Weather-wise the day was fantastic. I’ve got my beach bag in my car so I knew I had sunscreen packed away for the oppressive late-morning/afternoon sun (always amplified by standing on metal bleachers).

Sunscreen
Because you never know when you might have to drop everything and go to the beach. Or take six classes of high school kids outside.

Students were ready. They had planned out their zipline design by selecting a starting height and horizontal distance, pondered the concept of “safe but fun”, brought their Barbie or other figure from home, and hey, class outside on Friday? Let’s Go.


 

And then…

bummed Cap GIF
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I struggled to get the harness right the first two classes. We experimented with several different configurations (including one where I threaded the line through the wrong side of the pulley. Dur. Did I mention I used to teach engineering?). Maybe one of ten groups got a successful trial before my plan period.

Later in the day one of my student helpers, in his haste to reel in the line, managed to create a rat’s nest of tangles that I eventually had to cut.

Tangle
Hopeless. I bought a 500′ reel of landscape twine, so I had room for error. Good thing.

A couple of classes had a group of kids that proved to me I can’t let them roam on the ground while i’m 40 feet up at the top of the bleachers. I’ll remember that for next time. But we got a couple of worthwhile trials, enough to call the day a partial success. Although that’s a very rough landing for tandem Spidey/Barbie:


So what now? We had fun, yeah, but there has to be more to the activity, to tie it back to the math we had been doing (distance formula/pythagorean theorem). Back to Stevens:

Let’s say this company in Las Vegas approached you and said they wanted a 3,000 foot zipline. You can’t hand them a cute drawing and expect a contract, so based on your data, what would be a good starting and ending height? Why?

So I made a Desmos graph my students could use to set the dimensions for a 3000′ zipline and set their creative juices flowing. Open up a GDoc or GSlide. Tell me why you selected those dimensions, explain why your design is “safe but fun” and select the building in Vegas that will host your zipline. Insert your video.

Responses ranged from minimal to pedestrian to stunning. They did the math I asked them to do on paper, but even better, they used math talk to tell me about their design. Several compared the slope of their Barbie Zipline mock-up to the slope of their proposed Vegas Zipline. It was a beautiful thing.


 

So the Friday outside didn’t live up to the hype. They probably won’t tell their friends all about it. Several were a bit confused when I asked them to take what they learned from their “proof of concept” to write up an imaginary Vegas Zipline proposal. (“Mr. Dull, our zipline didn’t work. We didn’t learn anything”).

But I learned enough to make some changes for next year. And the write-ups were worth the frustration. We did real math, wrapped up in an activity. There was enough reward to justify the risk.

Also, this kind of encounter with your assistant superintendent and your director of secondary curriculum never hurts:

If you’ve been thinking about making the leap: go for it. It’ll be messy. But it’ll be worth it.

 

Winds Of Change – Camp #eVillageNWI 2019

Camp eVillage Logo

Back in May, in the midst of working on my presentation for a couple of IDOE Summer of e-Learning Conferences, I shot my district’s Director of Secondary Curriculum (also my former DC who sat in on my interviews) an email with the work in progress. I asked him to take a look and see what I was missing. He gave me some great advice about modeling exactly and explicitly what a Three-Act Math task looks like in the classroom, and he also stated that I should include a nod to the “why” of Three-Act – what’s the research behind it?

So I made sure to include a link and quote up front from Graham Fletcher‘s 2016 NCTM journal article “Modeling With Mathematics Through Three-Act Tasks“.

Who knew I was completely on-trend?


Trend

I’m far from the first to note the evolution of Ed Tech themes. When I first stumbled upon some of the teachers leading the way in integrating tech in the classroom, the trend was tools – how many can we use, what’s new, what’s first, what’s cool.

Gradually the focus has changed to pedagogy – how can we use technology to support teaching and learning? And every session I attended this week that featured tools led with research justifying the lesson design.

It was notable. And, obviously, good. The tech should serve the teaching, not the other way around.


idoe_logo_student_success
These ladies are leading the way in pushing math teaching forward in Indiana. Which is pretty damn cool.

The second thing that jumped out at me on Thursday dawned slowly. I spent my first two breakouts in math sessions, one with Denis Sheeran and another led by Emily Bruning and Robin Conti of the Indiana Department of Education.

Sheeran presented on the 1:1 math classroom, using the tools we give our students for something other than $250 pencils or e-worksheets.  His session featured sites like Which One Doesn’t Belong, Would You Rather, Open Middle, Desmos Activity Builder, and hyperdocs.

Things that have been staples of the #MTBoS ever since I’ve been on twitter.

The #eVillage conference is smaller and more rural than my “home” SOEL conference in Hammond. Out of 300 attendees, let’s make a wild guess and say 15% were high school math teachers. That’s 45 of us, who were probably all at at least one of those two Thursday morning sessions. And I saw a lot of knowing nods when Sheeran asked if we were familiar with these tools. In the Middle Of Nowhere, IN.

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The MTBoS has gone mainstream. Which is good. Selfishly, I didn’t feel like such a misfit being in a room with My People. But more importantly, this classroom culture change has taken hold with the rank-and-file in the classroom, far beyond the twitter-famous math teachers I’ve been stanning for so long.

But everything blew up in my mind in the next session, where IDOE reps gave us a status update on the state’s Math Framework.

They led with a Which One Doesn’t Belong, but with a hook. All the numbers came from The New Teacher Project‘s The Opportunity Myth report.

That was kind of eye-opening. Less than half of our students feel a sense of pride about school during the day and basically about one out of every six days on average we are engaging our students with something other than Stand and Deliver & here’s a worksheet.

Not even once a week!

It made me want to keep track in my own classroom next year. But give the IDOE credit. They are trying to turn the battleship around. And I met a bunch of good teachers this week who will be pulling on the steering wheel.

It started with a series of statewide IDOE workshops. My DC attended one last school year and told me when she came back had she known what the content was she’d have taken me along.

It was all #MTBoS/#iteachmath stuff. The stuff I’ve been doing for years. They’ve updated the state website to align various activities with each standard. All Three-Act and NCTM Illuminations and Desmos stuff.

For Me GIF
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And I sat there and thought, OK, here we go. Everything that had been considered “fringe” math teaching practices, accessible to only a few well-connected or really brilliant teachers, is now normative. This is the baseline.

The future is gonna be so awesome you guys.

I hope I’m there to see it.


Sometimes I wonder if all the side work, all the googling and twittering and connecting is worth it. I mean seriously, I could stand and deliver and worksheet and quiz myself senseless, and everyone would be happy.

But then, you find your people and you don’t feel so alone.

No Rain Bee GIF
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I got a book recommendation from the Queen Of Camp eVillage last school year. 

So, she pretty much nailed that one right on the head. I worked #ZamboniLakeSuperior into my preso, which turned out to be kind of prescient. I was able to connect it back to Sheeran’s keynote, so attendees at my session could get a real-life sense of what it looks like.

I’m working my way through Sheeran’s book Instant Relevance.

Sheehan Dedication
I got an autographed copy, you guys.

Three Ways. That’s a Ton Of Snow. The Logo Game. So much of what Sheeran wrote about, I’ve done, in some way, shape or form. Not because I’m so brilliant to think it up myself, but because I’ve been connected with folks online who have taught me to seek out connections outside of class and bring them into class so my students can connect our math back outside our walls.

Does that make sense? If you follow me, congratulations. I’m not sure I follow myself sometimes. But bear with me.

I know for sure I need to keep reading, keep tweeting, keep sharing, keep going to conferences, keep learning. Keep bringing what I learn to my building and my department. Some of my colleagues are down with it, some aren’t. Some folks have their own thing they are trying to share with me. I should pay attention to that too.

Honestly, I spent a little time Thursday basking in a sense of smug “told you guys” satisfaction. But I also felt even more like I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

“So, tell me, do you believe in a zone, or a man-to-man defense?”

You’ve been in that meeting, too, huh?

I don’t know if my style is gonna win any state championships. But I do know it is the best way to teach for kids. Which in the end is really what we’re here for, right?

I’ve always kind of dug the way the leaves on the trees turn their backs when a storm is coming. The outflow of a storm brings winds and a temperature drop that is unmistakable. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. in physics to tell when change in the weather is coming.

Just gotta pay attention to the wind.

And then maybe bring in the patio chairs, because the stuff is about to start flying.

 

Ready For Launch

“You know Mr. Dull, my mom finds it ironic that my math teacher’s name is ‘Dull’

— a very observant 4th period student

It’s Testing Season by me. English yesterday, Math today for juniors. Which meant my classes would be sparsely populated for most of the day. Like in: 7 kids in my 2nd Hour class. Way too few to do a traditional lesson that I’d have to repeat for tomorrow, or else leave my absent retesters to fend for themselves on Direct & Indirect Variation. Time for an on-the-the fly executive decision.

Yep. WCYDWT.  What is this, 2008? I’m gonna do a ripped-from-the-internet thing and then blog about it? Damn right I am.

So kids, I’ve got a little piece of video I’d like to share with you:

We keep the Silver Beach Web Cam up on my screen when we’re mathing most days, so my kids are pretty familiar with frozen lakes. I showed them this story on the current state of Lake Superior ice coverage. Currently 75% covered, above average for this time of year but not quite the 100% coverage in 1996.

Many of my kids have been to Mackinac Island, so we talked frozen Straits of Mackinac – in the winter snowmobilers can ride across the straits. Also, at this time of year there is a huge Outdoor Pond Hockey Tournament in St. Ignace. I told them I guess they shovel out the rectangles for the rinks, because what are you gonna do, drive a Zamboni out there?

*pause*

But, could we Zamboni a whole lake? (“Oh God Mr. Dull, you’re gonna make us math this aren’t you?)

I mean, how long would that take? Give me a guess that’s too high. How about a guess that’s too low. Now a Game Show Guess….

WCYDWT Zamboni

They were totally into it. How do I know? The story has gone viral and it’s pretty hard to miss, and none of my kids (in the first two hours anyway) even googled for the answer. Later on when they did, I just said “I’ll come back to you on that” and by that time we were far enough along that I could say “let’s check this guy’s math”. Because juniors love proving somebody wrong.

So we went with “Jo’s Plan” (as it came to be known) – if we can find out how big the lake is, and how big a rink is, we can divide to figure out how many rinks it would take to cover the lake. Then all we need to know is how long to resurface a rink. ( One kid in 3rd Hour said “I’m gonna text my friend and ask. He drives the Zamboni at the rink downtown.” They are very resourceful.)

Let’s go.

We did all kinds of math. Converting square miles to square feet, minutes to hours to days to years, estimating time to resurface a rink (they googled that later too, which was cool).

And we were off by a factor of 10. Came up with 9884 hours or something ridiculous. That “1700 square feet” up there? That’s a problem. Especially since I gave it to them. Dammit.

But the biggest benefit of building a culture of curiosity is you get curious kids.

“Let’s find the error”. Woah.

Keanu Woah
Ted Theodore Logan says woah. (Source)

They didn’t but my next period class did. Which was so cool. The only other tweak was we guessed 10 minutes to do a rink, based on 15 minutes between periods of a Blackhawks game. Turns out it’s more like 7.

“Are three minutes gonna make that much difference you guys?” Times 52 million rinks they are, yeah.

We adjusted the time to do one rink and hit the number almost exactly on the head.

On the button
On the button, baby

So, a couple of things from today. It’s 2019. It’s hard to get their attention, let alone keep it. I hate being the Cell Phone Police, but I’ve had some long talks with my Lunch Bunch lately about the subject. It’s pervasive. They are close to changing my mind. In the midst of “too high/too low” in one class, my most cynical, blase student shouted out “almost 700 years“, tapped the google app closed and went back to scrolling her snapchat. I could almost see her huffing her bangs out of her eyes in an act of supreme boredom as she said it.

But 95 % of my kids were hooked. They were helping each other, checking each others’ calculations, and shouting out intermediate steps. I was just sitting back and watching the magic happen. It was awesome.

I capped the day with two things:

We talked about how an astronaut once addressed a group of middle school kids in NW Indiana and challenged them to solve the big problems they’ll face as adults. She talked about manned space flight to Mars and the challenges of keeping humans alive in a tin can at 17,000 mph for six months. Think water and bodily waste. Yep, she went there. They’re middle school kids. They ate it up.

And when I brought up space in class today, one of my kids’ eyes lit up. She told how she had written a paper recently about our current and future plans for space exploration. I totally ceded the floor to her – her enthusiasm lit up my entire room and did more to make the point than I ever could.

A google search isn’t gonna solve those problems. Thinking deeply about solving insanely crazy problems will.

And, then, a tweet back:

The guy who originally did this math and put it out there for the world to see was scared that his math was wrong. Just like high school kids everywhere.

But he did it anyway.

And then:

Three-Act Math continues to be awesome, and the Internet continues to deliver a steady stream of it right to us. WCYDWT is seemingly alive and well, too. Plus the added bonus of the owner of the UP Supply Company replying to your tweet is kind of cool.

“This kind of thing makes me happy.” A collective “Awwwww!”

And then:

“Mr Dull, can we solve crazy insane problems and make people happy every Thurdsay?”

Can’t promise anything kid, but it’s tempting.

 

 

Apollo SHDH

 

observe-me-snip

So #ObserveMe has finally arrived at my school. I’m pretty psyched. Even got my first drop-in a couple of weeks ago, after having my sign up outside my classroom door since late 2016. That was exhilarating. Our tech coaches and department chairs all have their signs up now too. There’s even a GSheet we can add the class periods we are available to host visitors. Our department chair invited us all to join in at our meeting last week.

I should be on Cloud Nine right now.

Nope.

I took my sign down as I left school last Wednesday. It sat on my desk for the rest of the week, through the weekend. At that point I was really wondering whether I actually want random people dropping in on my class anymore. Unrelated to #ObserveMe, I’m finding out I’m not exactly a teaching role model I guess. So down came the sign. Leave me alone and let me be miserable in peace.

Kemil In Winter
Mental Floss, Region Style. Winter at Kemil Road, shelf ice included.

(Important reminder: the purpose of #ObserveMe is not to set myself out there as some kind of teaching role model for the wannabes to come watch and wonder and adore. It’s so other folks can come in, see what’s going on in my class (good and bad), and give me feedback on how I can improve. And: I need improvement. I’m such a self-centered jerk sometimes I can’t stand it.)


“Conversion is the task of a moment; sanctification is the work of a lifetime.”

— St. Josemaria Escriva

One of my favorite Polish saints is Maximillian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar who was martyred at Auschwitz when he volunteered to take the place of a husband and father who was part of a group sentenced to die of starvation in retaliation for a prisoner’s escape. Kolbe led his fellow doomed men in prayer and hymns, and died with a smile on his face when the Nazi guard injected him with carbolic acid to kill him after two weeks in a starvation bunker.

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Photo taken at the National Shrine of St. Maximillian Kolbe, Libertyvile, IL.

That’s a dude who knows what he signed up for. Who was who he was until the end, knowing the cost. Sanctified the world in death. He’s kind of the patron of our family. We even named our youngest son after him.

So, it’s gonna kill me, and hurt the whole time I’m dying. But I’m putting that stupid sign back up. It was a childish, impulsive thing to take it down. Prideful too. Like, I can’t get better at what I do.

So bring it on. Let Adrian wince. Mickey can yell “stay down!” all he wants. Make Apollo shake his damn head (2:05 mark) at how resilient I am. Rip open the wounds. Bleed it out. Heal me. Make me better at teaching.

Round And Round

We were on a convocation schedule today.

(Which was pretty epic, BTW. Four-time Special Olympics gold medalist and Boston Marathon qualifier Andrew Peterson addressed our student body as part of the Champions Together program.)

The result was we had 37 minute classes today.

When I dropped the news on my students last week, one of my kids said, ”We should play a game, Mr. Dull! Like Musical Chairs!”

OK, I’ll bite. That actually sounds like a pretty good idea.

I put out a call for advice:

Then did a little googling around (clearly not the first person to think of this, thankfully), and we were ready to roll.

Also you guys, it’s good to have that one person who will give you a little nudge to follow thru on a crazy idea that you inadvertently say out loud:

No turning back now, right?

Materials here:

musical chairs #3

musical chairs #2

musical chairs #1

musical chairs #0

math musical chairs exponentials key

Basic design was four problem sets at each table, with a decreasing number of problems. Everybody is in for the first two rounds, after that there is one less problem at the table for each successive round.

I ran the activity in four classes back to back today. I had a pretty solid idea of how it would all play out but I’ll admit, I made up some things as I went.

Like: how to keep students engaged throughout the class period. I knew the “once you’re out, you’re out” model of the actual musical chairs game would not work – too many people standing around watching, too much incentive to not participate. That will never do.

Solution: floaters. Anyone who is “eliminated” becomes the go-to person for help at their table. And, everybody starts over every round. So nobody is knocked out in the first five minutes and is never heard from again.

So that was the upside.

The downside: some problems were a little too challenging (I used Kuta to generate the problems, trading speed for control over content) so I spent a lot of time circulating the room jump starting students who were blown away (not necessarily bad, just I wanted the activity to be a little more self-run), and the corollary:  a lot of evaporation happens over the weekend.

But in a couple of classes the culture of collaboration kicked in and students started helping each other, which was pretty sweet.

 

 

 

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My #Teacherlife #2019Playlist made its in-class debut, which was cool.

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(“Play 8TEEN, Mr. Dull! Play 8TEEN!”). Extra added bonus was the cred which comes from knowing when to ride the volume control to mute class-questionable content.

My super-Type-A students wanted more reps than they got, which is an occupational hazard around here. I’ll get them covered on the actual review day Wednesday (alg ii 8.1 – 8.4 review packet).

So the activity can use a little tweaking, but overall it’s a keeper. The kid who suggested it tried to deflect credit but I was sure to thank him for his contribution. Students gave it a “we’d play that again” at the end of class, so I’ll take that as an endorsement. On a short day I got what I wanted, plus I think I have another game to add to my review toolkit.

 

 

Playing My Role

On Halloween night in Minnesota, it wasn’t quite a ghost returning from the dead, but the next closest thing. From a hoops standpoint anyway.

Former Bull Derrick Rose is the Chicago kid who went from Englewood to MVP, but now he’s a grizzled veteran whose best days are behind him. Injuries robbed him of his prime years. Then:

That’s not the kid that all my female students swooned over back in the early 2010s. He’s got a different role to play now. He knows it too:

“A lot of young guys on this team, my job is to be the veteran, to lead by example.”

Probably not the words he expected to say during a tearful post-game interview at this point in his career, but there it is.


It’s pre-service teacher season in my building. I’m hosting a Valparaiso University student, who comes from an education family and actually graduated from my high school alma mater. So we had quite a lot to talk about when we first met. He’s pretty well versed in the current issues around education, both from a “teaching and learning” standpoint, and also from those regarding how the business of school is regulated.

But on the handful of days that he’s in my classroom, we’re there to get him some observation time and some reps teaching actual classes to actual students. We kicked things off with Mr. L leading the end of class “check for understanding” after the work time on our practice set in a flipped classroom.

That went well, so we moved on to running a full class bell-to-bell. It so happened that the lesson was built around a Desmos activity. We’d already talked philosophy and teaching styles, and he’s seen my twitter, so Mr. L was pretty familiar with the tools I use in class. Now it was his turn to take AB out for a spin.

I sent him the link to the activity I had planned for the day so he could look it over and see what my students would see. He gave them a quick tutorial on graphing and transforming radical functions and then let it fly.

It went well:

Really well, actually:

I have no idea if he’ll jump on the Desmos bandwagon as a student teacher and beyond. I hope so. I do know that he got a chance to see first-hand how a well put-together Desmos activity makes student thinking & learning visible, and how it lets students engage with math in ways that were impossible when I started teaching. But he’s got to decide that for himself.

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My one student teacher from back 6 or 7 years ago is my colleague at my current school now. She’s her own teacher, which is right.  I had to smile at a planning meeting early this year when the department was talking a shift towards standards-based grading for Algebra 1, and she was able to jump right into the conversation because we had done SBG together during her student teaching year. Our department chair was suitably impressed. The best part though was that Mrs. S was able to take what she learned as a student teacher, and all her experience as a licensed teacher in a variety of school settings, and make herself into the outstanding math teacher she is right now.


 

I’ve shared out what I’ve learned so far at a couple of local conferences (part of the IDOE’s Summer of e-Learning series) the last two years, but I’m under no delusions of grandeur. I’m never gonna write a teacher book. I’ll never be “internet famous”. I won’t ever be the teacher that my principal sends other teachers to watch. Which, at this point in my career, and in my life, is fine. I’ve got a role to play. Pretty much my job is to teach kids, and when given the opportunity, to help a new teacher along the way.

I’m fine with being a nameless, faceless cog in the wheel. Doing my part for teachers and students down the line who will never know my name, or care even if they did. “Flying under the radar” so to speak.

And who knows. Maybe I still have a 50-point game in me still.

Matching Their Pace

 

We anticipated having to make pacing changes when we detracked Algebra 2 this year. Planned for it as a team all throughout last year, in fact.

But knowing it’s coming, and adjusting pace to match my students is two different things. My track 2 friends are grating at having to slow down and re-teach more often than they are used to. Meanwhile, I’ve been able to hit the throttle and open up the engines already, coming from a track 3 background.

Everyone on my team is veteran though. We’re staying on our toes, ready to call an audible in class based on our students’ needs.

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This week we wrapped up our foundations module with a day of solving word problems with algebra. I use the flipped class model, and as we reviewed notes at the start of class,  my students let me know right from the jump they did not feel real confident in their abilities: “How did you do that? Like, I don’t even know where to start!”

So we took a minute. Walked through an example from the notes, decoding the text, marking important information. But what my students really wanted to know was, how do you write an equation from all that mess?

My online PLN pretty much lives in my head these days. Now it’s time to lean on my people, in class, on the fly. I brought a little Jon Corippo (and his nachos analogy) with me as we talked making dinner. The Protein – Veggie – Starch framework that we all follow when plating up dinner. Could we look for a model that fits the information in the word problem?

confused will smith GIF

So lets break it down. I showed how we went from concrete to abstract with a verbal model template and an algebraic model over the top.

Then I offered a choice – we could do some pencil/paper math (I had a short practice set ready to go), or we could try… something different. I had tipped them to three-act math in the video notes for the section. What if we did that for real, in class, right now?

Let’s roll. Let’s do Social Math.

So on to the Taco Cart.

Taco Cart Snip

I knew we were on to something when they called out pythagorean theorem unprompted to calculate Ben’s walking distance. And then started doing the math. We compared methods as students determined walking time (some were very formal, writing out d = rt, showing work, doing dimensional analysis (!) and canceling units. Others were a little more back-of-the-envelope, insisting they could just divide (Why?).

We had math fights and we had people working together and we had people laying math on top of their common sense and we had a big reveal.

‘Cuz, you know, students cheer while watching a video in class, like, every day, right?

And: we had students leaving my classroom that day feeling like they were pretty good at math.

So that was cool.


In my first five years of teaching, I’d have never done that. I wouldn’t have known enough to change gears completely. I didn’t have the tools, or the experience. We’d have done more stand & deliver examples (Including me asking them afterwards “Does that make sense?”, and them nodding back at me, lying), more review pages, more me talking.

I’m glad somewhere along the line I learned a better way. The experience to recognize my students need and to recognize the right tool at the right time, its just priceless. They did all the work to figure out if Ben or Dan would get tacos first. I just sat back and watched the magic happen. OK, I asked a question or two along the way, but you know what I’m saying.

We talked recognizing patterns today during the notes review. I told them once you crack the code, algebra is pretty much all angel choirs singing and duckies and bunnies and rainbows and unicorns.

Image result for angel choirs singing gif

OK, maybe not really.

But It’s pretty damn sweet when you get to watch students realize they can do things they didn’t think they could do.


 

Three years ago I followed through on a commitment to begin blogging as a way to reflect on my practice. I’m not really even sure that blogs are a thing anymore, but I’ve got a handful that I read on the regular (Blogroll is over there to the right).

My online PLN is blogging their way thru August in the #MTBoS Blaugust2018 challenge. Check out the complete list here. While you are there, sign up to join in the fun. I’m waiting to read, learn, and grow with my Teacher Twitter people.

MTBoS Blaugust2018

One-Man Book Club: Room 24

I kinda stumbled across my latest summer read. Because sometimes the driver don’t pick the car, the car pick the driver.

Mrs. Dull facilitates the middle school youth ministry at our parish. Last weekend I was riffling thru a stack of EDGE curriculum boxes, looking for something else, and there it was.

Room 24
Image via Goodreads.

I was not familiar with the book at all, but I am familiar with the author, Katie Prejean McGrady. I follow her on twitter and think pretty highly of her (which makes me a member of a not-so-exclusive club):

Room 24 Number 4

So in a split-second decision, I added it to my summer reading list. Helps that it’s a quick read at 138 pages. She’s pretty up-front that it’s not a “teacher book” but as the saying goes, when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And when you are a teacher, every book is a Teacher Book.

Prejean is that teacher who absolutely loves her subject area. Now before you click away because she’s a theology teacher, her travails apply equally if you teach Algebra or World History or Literature. We fall in love with our subject and then wonder why our kids think we’re weird. And this book hit home because I’m human, not because I’m Catholic.

She relates the story of deciding on a major during a study-abroad semester in Rome (with the help of a trusted advisor)

Room 24 Number 1

She found that doesn’t always mean that her students will instantly love her content. In fact, many times the opposite was true. On the positive, she works hard (with some stumbles along the way) to build a relationship with her students, and she does it by being her authentic self. Teaching at her alma mater (and using the same textbook from her student days), she took a Ditch That Textbook approach to theology class. That allows for some flexibility when her 14-year-olds come to class with a stack of questions – thus the genesis of the days known as “Stump Miss Prejean”.

Room 24 Number 3

That Musical Cue is right up my alley, BTW. And “Stump Miss Prejean” is a brilliant way to honor student voice and curiosity while staying true to the curriculum and schedule.


 

Litany of Humility, in musical form, via Matt Maher:

Prejean is confident, and quick on her feet, but not every moment in class works out as well as “Stump Miss Prejean”. She relates a moment when she learned a harsh lesson in humility, driving her to resurrect a prayer devotion, the Litany of Humility:

Litany-of-Humility-
Image via His Mercy Is New

 

Earlier in her career, in her pride, she drove a student not only out of her class but out of the school altogether. That tale hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a student transfer out of my class after three quarters this year. Her style and my style just didn’t mesh. I felt bad that she wasn’t getting what she needed from me in my class, but privately I thought to myself, “Oh well, her loss. Let her go photomath all her homework in some other teacher’s class, and fail the final.”

Nice, huh? What a condescending, passive-aggressive jerk I am sometimes. She used to like math, get pretty good grades (as her mom told me) for most of her school career, and I probably poisoned math for her for life. When I read this from Room 24, I saw myself:

 

Room 24 Number 2

Yikes. Like Sully watching himself scare on video.


 

I’m constantly torn between “My Way Is Best” and “What Could I Have Done Different For Her?

Or is it best that she found a teacher that fit her better? I know intuitively that giving students a chance to discover is the best way for them to learn, and that in the world they will walk into they need critical thinking skills more than ever. I’ve picked up so much awesomeness from the #MTBoS that I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

So how do I stand my ground, doing what I know is best, without being a jerk about it?

I mean, true, we are the content area experts, and the pedagogy experts in the room. That’s why they pay us the big bucks, right?

Two of my classes this school year are Algebra I Lab, a second block of algebra for our struggling freshmen. (My people, by the way). When the class was pitched to me, it was with the expectation that I would break out everything I’ve learned about creating a student-centered classroom, with Desmos Activities and WODB and Three-Act Math and everything.

I’m looking forward to it. But I’m reminded in Room 24 that my students come stamped with an invisible “Handle With Care” instruction. And that going into the year a healthy dose of humility for myself might be a good starting point.

From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver Me Jesus….

 

Time To Buzz The Tower

Changing culture is hard. It’s difficult to do it with one class of kids. It’s a major undertaking to overhaul “the way we do things here”.  Last spring someone asked how things were going. I said I felt like I was being assimilated into the collective.

Locutus
“I am Locutus of Borg”. Via startrek.com.

When grades are king and the college pipeline is pretty well established, Doing Things Different™ can be…wearying.

I’d much rather be the guy who creates learning opportunities for my kids. I mean, I can stand and deliver with the best of them, but Photomath and Google and good old copying makes me feel like traditional worksheets and quizzes are a waste of everyone’s time. And after all of that, if I still can’t tell who knows their stuff and who just knows someone who’ll lend them their homework for five minutes, well, let’s not, OK?

giphy (12).gif
Image via Giphy

I’m sorry. There’s just better ways to do it.

“Students are under the impression that when they are stuck and confused, they are doing something wrong. Think of it this way. What if you went to the gym to work out but you didn’t get sweaty and you weren’t sore or tired? You would probably feel like you really didn’t get any exercise. The same is true for learning. Confusion is the sweat of learning.

If I just tell them the answer, that would end the struggle. What if a person was having trouble doing a pull up for exercise. Instead of giving them some other exercise, I could help them by doing the pull up for that person. Right? No, that wouldn’t actually be useful. However, if I push on the person’s feet a little bit they can still struggle and still exercise. This is what I try to do in these discussions. Instead of flat out answering the question, I often ask other questions for them to consider.”

–Rhett Allain, “Telling You The Answer Isn’t The Answer“, wired.com, October 18, 2013.


 

My guy Matt Miller of Ditch That Textbook fame keynoted at CUE last week. I was able to follow along from a distance via my PLN. He definitely got people’s attention:

Maverick, huh?. For guys of a certain age….


 

I stumbled across my teaching portfolio the other day, filled with evidence of my progression as a teacher, tools and tactics gleaned from the #MTBoSlessons that had migrated from pencil & paper to Desmos activities. There’s a question that stands out to me from the interview process, coming from one of my assistant superintendents. He asked me: “Do you teach math like you teach PLTW?” He meant, do you give students a chance to get hands on, to discover, do you use unorthodox methods to create learning opportunities? Yes. Yes I do. As often as I can. But sometimes I feel like I’m trying to undo 10 years of student habits. Jump through hoops, give the teacher what they want, put the right squiggles on a piece of paper (even if they don’t know what those squiggles mean), get the grade.

Doing it their way has to be easier, right? Less pushback for sure.

This is the best way. I know it in my bones. But it’s a total square peg/round hole situation. Kids want a worksheet they can Photomath and call it a day. Gimme my points.

I want them to think and struggle and learn.

A lot of them are in for a rude awakening next year. We’re in the process of de-tracking our math classes. Everything next year is gonna be faster and more in-depth. If they don’t have a decent math foundation and the ability to think their way through a problem, it’s gonna be a long year next year. I’m a little scared for them.

It is my job to help them build that foundation and learn those skills. But they’re not gonna get either one by mindlessly copying symbols off a phone screen or someone else’s paper. I think they know by now I’m gonna stand my ground. My Twitter bio doesn’t say “stubborn jackass” for nothing. I’m priming them for Desmos Conic Section Art right now. Nothing mindless there. At all.

On the positive, the kids coming up through grade school and middle school are being trained up to think. They will have been 1:1 for half their school careers by the time they get to me, creating and collaborating and knocking down walls. I see what my fellow district teachers are sharing on social. By the time we do algebra together, the kids will have been pushing the envelope for a while. And then, let’s ride.

 

 

Let’s Try That Again, Shall We?

I wrote earlier this year about our new department policy weighting test/quiz scores as 75% of a student’s math grade.

We decided as a group if assessments were gonna be that high-stakes, we would need to offer remediation and re-take opportunities. Everyone was given free rein to design their own remediation plan, and most of us modeled ours after the school’s Extended Term program where students who grade out at 53% – 59% can work after school to remediate skills and show mastery with an online program. The payoff is a 60% D-minus for the quarter.

On Open House night I told parents about the new policy, and my plans to offer remediation. They all nodded that retakes were a fair way to balance the need for a performance-based grade with the opportunity to show mastery at a later date. We walked through the math: a 50% test/quiz average and 100% on the daily work (turning in practice sets, participating in Desmos activities and Three-Act Math, attempting all review work) would average out to a passing grade (D-minus) for the quarter.

I launched my remediation efforts after a Unit Two quiz. Only about a dozen students took advantage, and of those, roughly half had already done pretty well on the quiz. Those are the kids who wanted to bump a C to a B.  The kids with an F-minus-minus, who needed a 50% to have a prayer of passing the term? Ghosts. So it’s still a work in progress.

My plan shakes out like this:

I’m late to the party, as usual, but it turns out, I’m doing it right. Want proof? Check out an article by Matthew Beyranevand at medium.com that’s been making the rounds of my timeline:

View at Medium.com

I was doing this on the fly. I just stumbled into this plan trying to do the right thing for my students, but according to this infographic, I’m right on target:

Image via medium.com.

I think this is what you call the fruits of hanging out with the right teachers online.


So: self-assessment time. How are things going so far? Well, I still only get a dozen or so kids in for remediation and retakes. I’m not sure it’s the right dozen, but the ones who come to me leave with a better understanding of the math we’re doing. So there’s that.

Remediation Roster Snip

Looking at the long game: the opportunity to retake quizzes keeps my students in the game. Nobody is so far in a hole after a low quiz score that they can’t climb out. Nobody is punished for an off-day, or for not learning as fast as someone else in the class.

Bigger picture, in my classes the quiz struggles are intertwined with poor study habits and a weak math foundation. Until I fix those things my kids will always have struggles come assessment time.

We are raising the bar of expectations at my school. That’s not gonna change. I can’t let my kids drown. That’s not gonna change.

Then what support am I providing to my struggling students?

Everything but the kitchen sink. My Canvas page for each lesson includes the slides I use for notes in class (including embedded videos of the example problems), so students can go back any time to see the examples worked out.

There’s also links to math help pages such as Purplemath and Virtual Nerd, and a video of me doing my notes as well as a selection of other videos on the same topic. And every teacher in my building is required to keep office hours (we call it “Flex Time”) for students to come to us for face-to-face help.

One person I showed this bounty smirked, “is that a golden platter you serve everything up on, or just silver?” I know. It sounds like overkill. Like we are babying a bunch of teeangers who are old enough to drive and work and make lots of important decisions. But my students need the support. I don’t know how many of them ever use any of these resources. Not many, based on the hits counter at youtube. But the alternative is to sit back and let them fail. They might fail anyway. But not because I sat on the sidelines and let it happen.

I think Teddy Roosevelt hit it on the head:

TR Moment of Decision
Via lifehack.

I’ve had that quote behind my desk for probably 10 years. I’ve done lots of right things, and lots of wrong things. I know for sure in this case, the worst thing I could do is nothing.